Owning and driving a motorboat can bring you endless hours of enjoyment and relaxation on the water. Still, being a responsible boat owner includes knowing local laws and restrictions.
How to obtain a motorboat license depends primarily on the state you live in. Some only require you to be familiar with the elementary safety protocols, while you need to get a boat safety certificate before a license in others. Also, there are age restrictions in some areas. Let’s see.
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A motorboat (powerboat, speedboat) is a term you can apply to any water vehicle with an engine. Typically, motorboats range from 14 to 65 feet (4.3 to 19.8 m) in length, measured over the deck from one end to another.
There are various motorboat types, depending on their use. You can use them for fishing, racing, water sports, or taking your family on a pleasure cruise. Some of the popular models are:
- Bass boat is ideal for freshwater fishing
- Bay boat is designed for shallow waters
- Bowrider is a family-style motorboat with an open bow area
- Center console is an outboard motor and equipment for offshore fishing
- Convertible fishing boat is usually over 35 feet (10.7 m) long and with a large cabin
- Cruiser has at least one cabin suited for overnight stay
- Personal watercraft is built for one or two people and powered by a jet drive
- Power catamaran is designed for longer journeys and offshore fishing
Motor Boat License
If you think of getting a motorboat, you need to gather local regulations. A marine dealer is an excellent person to help you with this task. Be prepared that you need proper paperwork regardless of your motorboat category. Most US laws classify motorboats in one of the following categories:
- Class A includes vessels under 16 feet (4.9 m) long
- The first class is reserved for boats long 16 to 26 feet (4.9 to 7.9 m)
- The second class includes boats 26 to 40 feet (7.9 to 12.2 m) in length
- The third class covers 40 to 65 feet (12.2 to 19.8 m) long vessels
Keep in mind that most people confuse a boat safety education card and a boat license. Those are two entirely different documents, and you need both to operate your motorboat legally.
The US Coast Guard only recognizes the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators as the institution in charge of issuing both of these documents. NASBLA has partners and branches all over the US, and you can quickly find one in your district.
Getting a motorboat license is not a complicated task and includes only three steps:
- Choose your state on an official NASBLA site
- Sign-up for a boat safety course and complete it
- Fill out the form for the boat license
In most cases, you can go to the local boat licensing site and download a license as soon as you pass the safety exam. However, some states prefer to issue a temporary paper first.
Be aware that state laws define motorboat regulation and licensing. However, these laws can change over time, so you need to check whether your license is still valid periodically.
Besides, your boat license is valid only for a limited time and in only particular state waters. If you move to another US state or visit it for a few weeks, you need to check on regulations there. Be aware that local authorities can revoke or permanently suspend your license in some cases.
Some states have so-called reciprocity, a mutual agreement of boat license and certificate approval. Before border crossing, it is necessary to check the NSABLA site and find information on the desired state.
On the other hand, some states are pretty relaxed regarding boat licenses. For instance, you won’t need a license or a safety certificate if you live in Arizona unless you are a boating instructor.
No permits or licenses are required in Alaska and the Virgin Islands. In these states, safety responsibility and regulations are entirely in the hands of motorboat operators. Therefore, you need to try your best not to endanger others.
Motor Boating Safety Courses
According to the American Boating Association, the cause of nearly 70% of all boating accidents is human error, typically incompetent boaters. This fact explains why most US states insist on taking a boating course before getting a license.
The same resource state there are 12.7 million registered motorboats in the US. So, it will be unsafe letting anyone operate a speedboat without safety education, danger protocols, and proper ship management.
Luckily, you can take this course from your home after registering on the BoatUS Foundation site and taking the required classes. This institution offers boating safety lessons for 35 US states. There are other agencies and NASBLA partners you can also sign-up on, such as:
- America’s Boating Education Course
All course providers go through boat courses approval with NSABLA. That way, they offer you lessons under National Boating Education Standard, provided by this institution and the US Coast Guard.
On line course
Once you sign-up for safety lessons, you will receive login information. That way, you can access learning material on site.
Some courses come with a manual book or CD, while others offer all lessons online. Plus, some will charge you a 20 to 50$ fee for this service while others offer free courses.
Hands-on boating training
If you prefer getting real experience instead of online study, you can find hands-on boating training in your local community. Remember that on-water training is mandatory for membership in most local boat clubs.
No matter what type of course you choose, they usually take three to eight hours and cover all details about emergencies, terminology, navigation rules, and regulation.
You also need to take an exam once you finish a course. It typically consists of 70 questions, and you need 60 to 65 correct answers to pass. Once you get a certificate, it will last a lifetime, unlike a boat license, which you need to update periodically.
Unique state requirements
Some states, like Connecticut, offer no online courses, so you need to get training from a certified instructor. Each of two to four required sessions lasts six to eight hours on site. Living in the Northern Mariana Islands implies boat safety licensing for everybody.
Living in Texas means you should pay $29.95 to apply for the Texas Boating Certificate. In addition, you need to pay another $10 state fee to get your temporary motorboat license. Once you pass the exam, you can download and print your license from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department site.
If you live in Virginia and have a motorboat over 10 HP (horsepower), you need to pass a safety exam regardless of your age and boat type. Plus, the local Coast guard requires you always to wear a boating certificate while sailing.
New York State has a specific set of regulations about motorboats. First, you need to register your motorboat unless you have:
- A rescue or life-saving boat
- Boat registered in another state
- A commercial boat
- Race boat for competition
Once you register your motorboat, you need to take a course. Keep in mind that you need to renew your registration every three years. There is no age limitation on registering a boat, but kids under ten can’t take safety courses and operate powerboats.
Only five state doesn’t require motor boating safety education before getting a license, including:
- South Dakota
- The Virgin Islands
If you consider yourself a lifetime explorer with various interests, you can apply for the Adventure License. This document merges driving, fishing, hunting, and boat licenses in one.
Once you complete a boating safety exam, you will get an anchor icon on your DMV document. It stands next to the issue date, followed by other optional licenses you have.
Since all necessary permits are printed on the driving license, you won’t have to worry about forgetting boat documentation every time you go sailing.
If you don’t have the Adventure or any boat license, you can still operate a motorboat. In that case, you need to sail with a supervisor over 18 years old with a license and safety certificate.
Besides a few exceptions, all state laws include age restrictions for operating a motorboat. In most cases, minors over 12 or 13 years can use a motorboat under the supervision of an adult after passing a safety test.
Kids under 16 can operate a motorboat with a maximum of 15 HP in South Carolina. One 13-year old have the same privilege in Montana but only for boats under 10 HP.
Kids under 12 years can use a 6 HP motorboat without restriction in Michigan. For boats between 6 and 35 HP, your child needs to be with a 16-year old supervisor with a safety certificate. If you have a strong, massive boat over 35 HB, no one younger than 16 can operate it.
Getting a boat license is a piece of cake once you complete a boat safety course and pass the exam. Remember that laws and regulations differ from state to state, so you should always research before applying for the license.